Disclaimer: Not mine. Never will be. No money being made.
Comments: The passage with the cards comes from a soldier who fought in the N. African campaign in what was probably WWI. A special thanks goes out to Judy Remmert who sent the passage to me. I tweaked it a bit, but for the most part it is as it was sent to me. I would also like to thank Bern for her help! Hope you enjoy it.
Josiah shook his head as he read the telegram he'd just received. HAVE YOUR MAN STANDISH - STOP - COME GET HIM - STOP - NOW - STOP. The message was from the Marshall over in Clearwater. Wanderlust had been nipping at Ezra's heels and Chris had let him have a few days off. It was that or else Chris was going to shoot the contemptuous gambler. Shoving the telegram in his pocket Josiah headed straight for the livery to saddle his horse, Prophet.
He just didn't understand what drove Ezra. The Lord knew the boy could be as cordial as could be, but other times the glare in his green eyes hit harder than Chris's. Over the last year Josiah had seen the redeeming qualities that Ezra fought was hard to hide. They were there for all to see in the way he treated the children of the town. In the respect he showed the ladies and in the manner in which he recklessly defended the people of this town.
Chris and the others looked up as Josiah stepped into the saloon. "You going somewhere?" Chris asked as the older man came to a stop at their table wearing his jacket.
"Got a telegram from the Marshall over in Clearwater . . ."
"What Ezra do now?" Buck asked with a grin.
"He didn't say, but I'm going to get our lost lamb."
"What about your responsibilities here?" Chris wanted to know. Damned Southerner couldn't stay out of trouble for any length of time, he thought to himself. Sometimes he was more trouble than he was worth.
"What about them?" Josiah asked him. "Look, Chris just so you know. I was merely informing you not asking for permission."
"Yes, really. Ezra is just as an important member of the group as anyone one else and I will not abandon him," the older man stated.
"Fine go get him and bring his sorry ass home," Chris snapped.
"Hell, Josiah Ezra ain't gonna be happy to have you going to bail him out," Buck said with a knowing look.
"Yeah, you know how Ezra likes to handle things on his own," JD added.
Josiah shook his head. "Sometimes it's the most self-assured that needs help the most," he told them.
"Want some company?" Vin asked getting to his feet.
"Up to you," was Josiah said then turned on his heels and left.
"Damn, I'd hate to see how protective Josiah would be if Ezra really was his son," Buck commented.
"Probably just as protective as you are of JD," the tracker tossed over his shoulder before following the older man.
Josiah and Vin rode in silence and headed straight for the jailhouse once they reached Clearwater.
"Morning boys!" the Marshall called from where he sat in a chair on the boardwalk.
"Mornin' Jerry," Josiah said as he dismounted. "We've come for our lost sheep."
"Ain't here . . ."
"Nah, he's over at Doc's."
"Got shot in the arm . . ."
"Is he all right? What happened?" Josiah peppered the questions at the man.
"Someone tried to rob the bank late yesterday and your man helped me catch 'em," the Marshall explained. "He's pretty good with that peashooter of his ain't he."
"Why didn't you say anything in your wire?"
"Cause I didn't want to worry no one. He's fine, but I didn't think he should be traveling alone," the Marshall went on the say.
Without another word Josiah hurried across the street leaving Vin to see if the Marshall had everything under control. After knocking on the doc's door he waited impatiently for the door to open. He was about to knock again when he heard someone coming.
"Mr. Sanchez . . ."
"Ma'am. How's Ezra?" he asked and impatiently inched his way forward. If you don't hurry and move, he silently warned, I might do something I regret.
"He's fine. In fact, he's dressing now. Mr. Standish insisted that he had to get back to Four Corners," the doctor's wife told him with a smile.
"May I see him?"
"Oh, of course, come this way," she said and led him up the stairs.
Josiah thanked her then knocked on the door, but didn't wait to be told to come in.
"Ah, I see my knight in tarnished armor has arrived," Ezra teased with a grin and finished pulling on his boots.
"Are you all right, Ezra?"
"You know me, I always land on my feet."
Josiah couldn't help but grin in response to that because it was true. Seeing Ezra struggle to put his jacket on had him sighing. The man would whine from sunup to sundown trying to get someone to back him in some scheme, but had to be near death before asking for help. Stepping up behind him Josiah grabbed the garment and pulled it up his shoulders. "There ya go son," he teased and ruffled his hair.
"Josiah!" Ezra fussed and quickly stepped away then immediately began straightening his hair.
The older man laughed as he watched him. Hearing coming up the stairs Josiah looked up and grinned at Vin.
"Hey Ezra. How ya doing?" Vin asked.
"Much better before Josiah walked in," he stated with a frown and picked up his hat. "Shall we?"
"Uhm . . . Ezra ain't you suppose to be wearing this?' the tracked asked as he picked up the sling on the table by the bed.
"I only need it when the doctor's around," Ezra told them with a smile on his face.
They were almost at the door when they heard a woman's voice call out. "Mr. Standish! You are suppose to be wearing that sling!" the doctor's wife fussed.
Josiah and Vin grinned as Ezra ducked his head. Josiah's grin quickly turned into shock as the gambler suddenly said, "Josiah I asked you not to let me forget my sling!" Then with an exaggerated sigh took the offending material from Vin. "I told him that I was instructed to wear it by your husband and I cannot believe he let me forget," he said.
"Me? But I didn't. I mean he didn't . . ."
"Mr. Sanchez I'll have to ask you to watch your tone while you're in my house," the older woman quietly scolded.
Josiah clinched his teeth at the sparkle in Ezra's eyes. "Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry," he said then elbowed Vin in the ribs as he began to laugh.
"Now, you leave that nice young man alone, Mr. Sanchez," she said wagging a finger at him.
"Ma'am would you be so kind as to help me put my sling on," Ezra asked in such a way that he sounded like a little boy. "I . . . I don't think I can manage it on my on."
"Of course. Come sit here," she cooed as he sat on a near by chair. "You poor dear. There that's not to tight is it."
"It's perfect. Thank you kindly," he said taking her hand and giving the back a very gentleman like kiss.
"Oh, Mr. Standish," she giggled. "You take care."
They bid her goodbye and stepped out on the boardwalk. Ezra and Vin both grinned at Josiah as they headed for the livery to get the Southerner's horse. "Thanks a lot, Ezra," he said and gave his uninjured shoulder a little shove.
"Well, let that be a warning to you. Don't mess with my hair," Ezra replied.
The return trip to Four Corners was without incident. And Ezra had to endure an examination from Nathan before he was officially pronounced to be on the road to recovery.
The seven of them sat at their usual table late the next afternoon when Mary walked in. "Afternoon, gentlemen," she said in greeting.
"Ma'am," was the general reply.
"Josiah I received this telegram and I thought you might be interested in it," Mary said handing it over.
"Thanks for sharing this Mary," Josiah replied after reading it then handed it back. "This could prove very interesting."
"What's going on?" JD asked having waited as long as he could.
"A Reverend Phillip Rushlow will be traveling through this area on his way to San Francisco and Mary has persuaded him to stay a couple of day to share the gospel with us," the older man explained.
"That's great," JD said then saw Josiah's frown. "Isn't it?"
"Of course, it is," Josiah reassured him, "I was just thinking about the church and how much work needs done to it."
"There's a lot of heart in that church, Josiah," Nathan told him.
"But . . ."
"Nathan's right," Ezra interrupted without lifting his head from his cards. "What is it you gentlemen are always telling me? It's not the outside that matters, but the heart within."
"I know that Ezra," Josiah told him. "But . . ."
"But nothing," he said still not lifting his head. "You've done your best with that church, Josiah and if the good Reverend doesn't appreciate all it's simple grandeur then I say the fault lies with him."
"Thank you, Ezra," he said with a big smile on his face. "How's your arm?"
"Your welcome and it's fine," Ezra replied with a grin. "So long as I can shuffle the cards all is well."
"Can I ask you a question Ezra?" JD said.
"If you feel the need."
"Why do you carry two decks of cards?"
Ezra tapped the deck on the table and responded, "These are for playing and the other is for . . . something else." He then gathered his cards then said without looking as his watch, "Is that the time? I'm sorry, gentlemen, but you must excuse me."
"What?" JD asked at the looked the others sent him.
Vin found him an hour later in the livery sitting on a bale of hay holding a faded deck of cards. "Hey ya Ezra," he called as he walked up to the tack room and returned with a brush.
The tracker always appreciated the fact that Ezra didn't feel the need to constantly talk and usually enjoyed the quiet time they spent together, but this different. He could feel the tension coming off his friend and found himself asking, "You okay?"
Ezra merely nodded his head and released a big heart felt sigh.
Vin watched as Ezra pushed what ever was bothering him away and was surprised when he heard him ask.
"Did you ever go to church?"
"When I was in the orphanage they made us go every Sunday," he told him, "but other than that I hadn't been since I hooked up with Josiah. You?"
Ezra shook his head no. "Maude and I were discouraged from attending when I was younger and I as I grew up I found that the church and I did not agree on several points."
"Was that before or after you'd conned them?"
"Before," he said with a sad smile. "Maude said that sometimes religion was the biggest con of all, so why not return the favor. I went along with it for a while, but was never comfortable with it."
Vin was about to say more when JD walked in.
"Hey guys!" he said as walked up and began to saddle his horse. "Oh, before I forget, Nathan's looking you Ezra. He wants to have a look at your arm."
Ezra got to his feet and brushed his pants for then said, "Thank you for the warning JD."
Vin sighed as he watched the gambler leave and couldn't help, but feel disappointed because he had a feeling the Southerner was about to share something with him. With a shake of his head he only listened to half of what JD was rattling on about and wished for the awkward silence of earlier.
For two days Josiah cleaned, dusted, and made what repairs he could in order to get the church ready for the Reverend's visit. And now the day was finally here. Hearing the stage arrive brought Josiah to the window and he nervously watched as Mary greeted their visitor. The Reverend Phillip Rushlow was a short man, not much taller than JD, with light brown hair and appeared to be in his early to mid thirties. After releasing a pent up breath Josiah opened the door and walked across the street.
"Reverend Rushlow, I'd like you to meet Josiah Sanchez," Mary said as Josiah approached. "Josiah is one of the town's peacekeepers and in his spare time has been working to repair our church," she went on to explain.
"Mr. Sanchez," the Reverend said holding out his hand.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, sir," Josiah told him as he took the offered hand. "Perhaps after you've rested, you'll allow me to show you around town," he offered.
"That would be wonderful," he replied. "How about we meet at the hotel after lunch?"
"That'll be fine," Josiah said with a smile. He watched the Reverend and Mary walk away with mixed emotions. Part of him was excited about having someone of the Cloth to talk with, but another part worried that the Reverend would find him unworthy. Sensing someone behind him he turned and smiled upon seeing Nathan.
"That the Reverend?" Nathan asked.
Josiah just nodded.
"So what do ya think?"
"I don't rightly know, Brother Nate," was all he saw before heading back to the church.
Later that afternoon the other six peacekeepers sat outside the saloon watching as Josiah and the Reverend walked around town. And as the two men approached them they heard the Reverend say, "I don't understand how you promote violence on one hand and preach with the other."
"Josiah does not preach he offers suggestions," Ezra pointed out, "and he doesn't promote violence he helps to prevent it."
"Violence only begets more violence . . ."
"Yes and ignorance begets death," Chris interrupted without looking up.
"I would rather die righteous and meek rather than unworthy . . ."
"And I would prefer to go out in a blaze of glory," Ezra quickly countered with a smile.
"Those who live by the gun will die from the gun."
"Yes, well, be that as it may . . . To Thy Own Self Be True," the Southern said with grin and a knowing look that effectively shut the Reverend up.
Josiah quickly stepped forward and said, "Reverend Rushlow I'd like you to meet my friends and fellow peacekeepers." As he made the introductions and pretended not to notice the man hesitate before shaking Chris and Ezra's hand.
"I hope you gentlemen will be able to join us for tomorrow's services," the Reverend said with a small smile.
Ezra stepped forward before anyone else could say anything and said, "I know I speak for everyone when I say . . . we shall endeavor to try."
"I'll look forward to seeing you there," he said with a tip of his hat and then turned and walked away.
Josiah grabbed Ezra's arm and said in a harsh whisper, "How could you?"
"What? I merely defended you."
"Well, I don't need you to," he snapped. "I am more than capable of defending myself."
"Then why didn't you?" Ezra countered and jerked his arm free.
"Because I didn't feel the need to . . ." Josiah paused and ran a hand through his hair before continuing. "Look I don't expect you to understand . . ."
"Oh, I understand perfectly," he interrupted. "I have always known I was an unworthy bastard. Not to mention a con man, a gambler, and a peacekeeper. I've found a balance between the four. And I have never denied any of those titles. Can you say the same?" Ezra pulled his arm away, but instead of walking away like he had intended he sat back down on the bench in front of the saloon and gave Josiah a questioning look.
Ezra watched as Josiah hung his head then turned and walked away. He pulled a deck of cards out of his pocket and began to shuffle and manipulate them between his fingers. Josiah was such a hypocrite, he silently fussed. How many times had him and the others heard Josiah tell them to have a little faith in themselves, but also in God. And what does he do? He let's some sanctimonious Reverend second guess him. Looking at the cards in his hand, Ezra was suddenly struck by an image from the past. Pushing those thoughts to the back of his mind he jumped to his feet and quickly made his way to the livery to saddle his horse.
"You all right Ez?" Vin asked a few minutes later as he leaned against the stall.
Again Ezra was struck by the image only this time it would not be ignored. In his mind he could see a woman and a young boy sitting in a saloon with a deck of cards fanned out before them. Looking at the buck skinned clad man beside him Ezra asked, "Would you care to hear a story?"
Vin merely nodded his head and waited.
Noon the next day four of the seven peacekeeper stood close to the door at the back of the church. While Nathan and JD found them a seat in a near by pew. And Josiah sat in a chair just to the side of the alter.
Josiah looked out over those in attendance and inwardly smiled at seeing Ezra there. He'd been worried that the younger man wouldn't show, especially after their words from yesterday.
"You really shouldn't allow a gambler or a gunslinger in here," the Reverend whispered so only Josiah heard him.
"Everyone is welcomed in the house of Lord," he pointed out to him. "Especially Ezra and Chris."
"Well, I guess that's understandable in this house," the Reverend softly taunted.
Josiah felt his breath catch at those words, but before he could say anything the other man stepped up to the pulpit and began his sermon. The Reverend Rushlow preached about redemption and warned them against giving into temptation. He also, made a point to mention his earlier words about violence and living by the gun.
Listening with only half an ear as the man prattled on Josiah realized that he's lost what little respect he had for the good Reverend at the dig against not only his church, but Ezra and Chris. Glancing out over the patrons he quickly grinned as both JD and Nathan fought to stay awake. Chris and Buck had their hats pulled low over their faces so he couldn't tell if they were asleep or not. Josiah's grin widened as he saw Ezra and Vin both leaning against the wall with one foot crossed over the other. Those two were so alike that sometimes it was scary.
The grin fell from Josiah's face as he noticed something in Ezra's hand. Cards. The cards themselves didn't bother him because he knew Ezra went nowhere without them, but that he would actually play them in the church tore at Josiah's heart.
Ezra ignored the disapproving looks he received from both Chris and Buck when pulled out his cards. Casting a glance at Vin he sighed at the look over understanding in those blue eyes and was glad he had shared a piece of his past with him. Feeling someone's eyes on him Ezra looked up and froze at the look of disappointment in Josiah's eyes. But he refused to put his cards away.
After what seemed like forever the Reverend finally finished and Ezra tipped his hat as the town's people left. Then prepared himself for the confrontation he knew was coming.
Josiah walked up to Ezra and looked at him with disappointment shining clearly in his blue eyes. "How could you? If you have no respect for me, I thought you'd have at least shown some for the church."
The Southerner squared his shoulders at the pain that tore at his heart upon hearing those words. "I meant no disrespect to you or your church Josiah."
"Cards are instruments of the devil," the visiting Reverend said as he came up behind Josiah.
"These cards are my bible . . ."
"You'll burn in hell for your insolence . . ."
"Well, at least, he'll be in good company!" Vin snapped.
"The both of you leave this place!" the Reverend shouted. "You are no longer welcomed in the house of the Lord . . ."
"Now you wait just a damned minute!" Josiah threatened. "These men will always be welcomed in this House. The house of my Father."
Vin nudged the seething gambler with his elbow. "Go on Ezra tell them what you told me. Explain about the cards."
"I owe him nothing," Ezra said and made to leave.
Vin stepped in front of him and said, "No, but you do Josiah."
The gambler thought for a moment and then said, "Very well, but for Josiah's sake only." Stepped around Vin and over to a pew Ezra motioned for the others to follow him. Pulling his cards from his pocket he shuffled them and then began to sort them. Clearing his throat, he said, "Once upon a time in a land far, far away . . ."
"Ezra," the tracker interrupted with a laugh.
"I'm building up to it," Ezra told him with a shrug. "There was once a beautiful God fearing young woman who fell in love with a dashing young man, only it wasn't meant to be as her young man was killed. This was quite a shock to the young woman, but was nothing compared to shock of finding out she was with child. Because of this the young woman was no longer welcomed by her family or by her church. With no one to help her the young woman did what was necessary to ensure the safety of her and that of her child. The years passed quickly past and the lady was determined that her child would know God and all His glory. But the church was just as determined that the bastard child of a wayward woman from the deep south would not," he paused to licked his dry lips before continuing. "Never one to be so easily discouraged the woman sat the boy down, who by the way was all ready quite proficient at cards, and preceded to explain to the boy about how his deck of cards was similar to the bible . . ."
"I will not listen to this blasphemy!" the reverend said getting to his feet.
Josiah grabbed him by the arm and all but shoved him back down. "Don't even think about it," he warned.
By now Ezra had the cards arranged as he wanted then with a nod from Josiah he continued, "As I'm sure you have guessed that woman was my mother and that boy was me." The Southerner slid to his knees and turned to face the pew where he fanned the cards out. "This is what Maude taught me all those years ago," he told them picking up a card. "When I look at the Ace, it reminds me that there is but one God. The Deuce reminds me that the Bible is divided into two parts, the Old and the New Testaments. With the Trey, I think of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost," he said as he laid them down. "When I see the Four, I think of the four Evangelists who preached the Gospel; there was Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. With the Five, I am reminded of the five wise virgins who trimmed their lamps; there were ten of them: five were wise and were saved, while the other five were foolish and were shut out. When I look upon the Six, I am reminded that in six days, God made this great heaven and earth. The Seven, reminds me that on the seventh day, God rested from His great work. And with the Eight, I think of the eight righteous persons God saved when He destroyed this earth; there was Noah, his wife, their sons and their wives. The Nine, reminds me of the lepers that our Savior cleansed, and nine out of the ten didn't even thank Him. When I see the Ten, I think of the Ten Commandments God handed down to Moses on a table of stone. The King, reminds me that there is but one King of Heaven, God Almighty. And when I see the Queen, I think of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is Queen of Heaven. And the Jack or Knave is the Devil," Ezra had to pause and clear his throat.
"Tell 'em the rest," Vin urged in a whisper.
"When I count the number of spots on a deck of cards, I find 365, the number of days in a year. There are 52 cards, the number of weeks in a year. There are 4 suits, the number of weeks in a month. There are 12 picture cards, the number of months in a year. There are 13 tricks, the number of weeks in a quarter. So you see, gentlemen, my pack of cards serves me as a Bible, an Almanac and a Prayer Book," Ezra told them gathering his cards then got to his feet. After placing his cards in his pocket the gambler looked at Josiah and said, "You see Josiah, when I pulled these cards out it wasn't in disrespect, but in reverence." Having said way more than he intended the Southerner pushed past the others and made to leave.
"Ezra," Josiah called out to him. "I'm sorry I misjudged you. And I thank you for sharing your bible with us."
"Anytime Josiah," Ezra told him with a smile then with a nod of his head walked out of the church and into the warm afternoon sun.
"That man never ceases to amaze me," Nathan whispered as the church doors closed.
"Yeah, ain't it grand," Vin said with a grin.
"It certainly isn't ever boring with Ezra around," Chris agreed with a grin of his own.
Josiah smiled at his friends then turned to the Reverend. "People in glass houses should not throw stones," he said. "I trust you know your way out and I hope you have a safe trip to San Francisco," Josiah told him before heading for the door with his friends right behind him.
Once outside they heard the squeal of laughter and turned to see Ezra surrounded by the children of the town. He had one in each arm with the rest following closely on his cost tails.
"All those children can't be wrong," Buck said with a grin before running to go join in the fun. JD and Vin were right on his heels.